Friday, June 4, 2010

A Strange Day at the Square

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to Tiananmen Square to mark June 4.

Last year it was completely blocked off as it was the 20th anniversary so I was curious to see what would happen this year.

After a minor security check of putting our bags through a scanner and a brief wanding, we could go into the square.

And instead of an atmosphere of contemplation and grandeur, it was more like one of celebration and noise.

There were two long rectangular screens that are permanently mounted on granite stands that are carved, each broadcasting the same images provided by CCTV. Some of them were of raindrops collecting in a giant lotus leaf, the Great Wall, a bird's eye view of the China pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, Beijing Capital International Airport, and the National Stadium or the Bird's Nest.

And the people in the square were an odd bunch, mostly huddled in groups with red umbrellas that said something like "Capital Volunteers", harking back to the Beijing Olympics when neighbourhood watch groups hung out in street corners on the look out for anything suspicious.

But here they were, wearing their own "uniforms" of different coloured shirts and all carrying the same red umbrella.

Was this a fabrication to make it look like the square was "busy" and business as usual to foreigners?

If it was, it was a feeble attempt because they didn't seem like they wanted to be there, crouching on the ground or chatting with friends.

The bizarre atmosphere just made it all the more outrageous since a brutal anniversary happened here 21 years ago. It was as if they were trying very hard to negate the past, in the hopes that people would not remember.

But we still do.

We will not forget those people who lived near the square who tried to stop the tanks from entering, and we will not forget the students who were trying to tell the government they had enough of the corruption and wanted justice.

China may want its people to forget with these fancy distractions, but we will not be misguided in what we saw.

We will not forget.

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